I follow a number of agent's blogs via my Google Reader (great little thing, by the way, if you don't have it). One of them is the blog for Bookends, LLC Literary Agency. I quite like this one in particular, because the agents, Jessica Faust, Jacky Sach, and Kim Lionetti post frequently with lots of helpful advice, tips, and insight for authors. I've done quite well with my career thus far, but I do know that to make it to the top (which I will someday) I'll need an agent. When the time is right for me to find one, I won't be going in with my eyes closed. The Bookends ladies also critique query letters on their blog, and run genre-specific contests wherein authors post the first 100 words of their manuscripts in the comments section; a winner is picked, and that person earns a critique of their query letter, synopsis, and the first chapter of the work. Such things are invaluable, and could make or break an author's chances of getting past that first glance.
So, when they announced the historical romance contest on Thursday I gathered up the opening lines to Reckless Liaisons, took a deep breath, and posted my entry:
The horse’s hooves beat a clamorous tattoo against the cobbled streets, stirring the low fog that had settled like a blanket. Julia dug her heels into the stallion’s taut flesh, urging him faster still. With a grunt and a sharp exhalation of breath, he picked up speed, mane tossing in the wind, droplets of water splashing in his wake. She had no concern for the scandalous picture she painted, streaking through the outskirts of London on the giant black stallion, legs straddling either side of the beast as a man would ride. Haste had been far more important than modesty, and she hoped the cloak of night’s darkness would hide the inconspicuous nature of her dress. Her maid had borrowed the trousers and plain linen shirt from one of the stable hands. Her hair had been pulled back in a simple tie at the nape of her neck, and now strands of it came free, wrapped around her arms in stringy tendrils.
I continued to watch the thread out of curiosity to see if anyone I knew entered, and there were many familiar faces - Candice Gilmer, for instance, whose first novel, Unified Souls, I had the pleasure of editing for Aphrodite's Apples.
I was rather surprised to see my name come up in the comments later on. It started with this comment by Julie Weathers:
"Probably not my place to say so, but I'd like to make a small comment. While the damsel in distress on a raging black stallion makes a dramtic picture, it isn't very practical."I didn't have to defend myself, an anonymous poster did it for me (actually, it was this post that first caught my eye, then I had to go back and figure out what she was referring to):
Kayleigh Jamison, I disagree with the earlier comments about your entry. Practicality has nothing to do with anything when you're trying to pull in a reader.
You captured my attention, made me feel what she felt with well placed sensory cues, and question her motivation for setting out bareback on a stallion in the throes of a wild storm.
I would read this book. She sounds like a head-strong character that isn't afraid to take chances.
I wasn't going to reply, but then I felt I ought to. Not because I was upset or offended by Ms. Weathers' comments, since I'm not. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I responded as follows:
Thank you for the compliment, Anon.
Practical? Of course not. Foolhardy and silly? Of course! That's the point. What would make her do something so ridiculous? Ah...but there's the question, isn't it?
It's my opinion that there should be elements of the fantasy in any romance novel, because I read them to be swept away into the story, out of my regular, boring life. Practicality doesn't really factor in. Those are my tastes, and since I write what I like, that's how I write.
I do appreciate your comment, Julie, though I am obviously biased against agreeing with it. It's further proof of the diversity of readership that every author faces. I'll never please everyone, nor do I want to because I think that would be quite boring. :)
End of it, I'm thinking. But no. Ms. Weathers' responds to my comments.
Of course women galloping wildly away on raging black stallions is nothing new. I'm sure it still cuts a dramatic picture to some.
Unfortunately, a shod horse galloping on cobblestones is like a horse on ice.
As for the other black stallion entry, someone jumping on an unsuspecting horse's back would most likely result in the horse shying and the damsel in more distress.
However, we each have our own path and I wish you well.
Just a small point of interest for anyone who cares. True black horses are very rare.
Again two anonymous posters come to my defense, one who asks the very same thing I was thinking: Is this a crit session? No, it is not. Julie's reply is a list of her equine credentials, which I suppose was meant to justify her criticisms of my story. Out of 140 or so odd entries, mine is the only one to be singled out for critique. I suppose this is because Ms. Weathers' deems herself a horse expert and what she viewed as an inaccuracy stuck out to her. But I must admit that at this point I'm growing slightly annoyed. I posted the following reply:
Well thank god for me I'm writing fiction and not a compendium on horses, eh? ;)
I, too, have a riding background actually. I rode dressage for a number of years competitively. But that's neither here nor there.
We each have our areas of expertise and our own backgrounds. Clearly my books (or at least this one) are not for you. That's okay!
Hey, what I find great about this is that out of 100+ entries, you zeroed in on mine, for better or for worse, and made others do the same.
I appreciate the well-wishes from others. Feedback is always a good thing.
I meant it. I don't really give a horse's ass (har har) if she dislikes my premise, because I can never please everyone. I don't want to. It is not and will not ever be my goal. The ever fabulous Stella Price was less tactful than I when she stepped in.
To Julie Weathers about Ms. Jamison's work and the side note about the black horses:And still, after all this, Ms. Weathers' perseveres in perpetuating the debate.
THIS IS FICTION. If it entices a reader to read on, and as long as she gets the facts of the time period correct who cares if the chick wants to ride naked or bareback or with bunny ears on a "rare" black horse. Its what the story called for and its what works for it. That your jumping in and saying something this ultra critical about details in a fictional story is preposterous for the simple fact that, once again its FICTION and the authors draws the world around their characters. The fantastic is what makes fiction so great. So Black horses are rare? good I'm glad they got a spotlight in a damn good book.
And I think this blog is a great idea and it has a LOT of wonderful and promising authors and stories started. Its people like Ms. Weathers that come in and try to break down those who have done what they are dreaming and destroy the purity of the concept.
Stella Price and Anon.This is where Ms. Weathers officially pissed me off. I could ignore her condescension in the previous comments, and her dislike of my work. I could digest her critique, and I did. I don't appreciate her implications that I don't like feedback when I quite clearly thanked her for her comments, and meant it. I really don't appreciate the implication that I do not research my books. You can tell me I suck at my craft and I'll shrug it off, but do not tell me I don't bother being historically accurate. I've spent more hours researching for my work than I have writing it. Poor Katrina Strauss has to listen to me blather on about spending six hours researching Ancient Roman armor, or half a day on the chemical make-up of pencils in Regency England. She patiently nods and smiles as I consult a dozen sources to figure out how long it would take to travel from London to Edinburgh in the 16th century, or as I teach myself how to conjugate verbs in Romany.
Actually, I wasn't putting anyone down. I commented on the practicality and then wished everyone well.
As we all know, bookstores are filled with a wide variety of books and genres so everyone can find what they enjoy. Some authors appreciate feedback, including mine, on things and others don't. Some authors research extensively and others are content to simply tell exciting tales. It doesn't make either method correct.
If my intent was to be disparaging, I probably would have posted anon as I do enjoy this site and don't wish to make enemies.
Simply because I penned an opening sequence that Ms. Weathers viewed as "impractical," she made the leap to the assumption that my work is not researched. That gets under my skin in a big way. Impractical does not automatically equal impossible. Practicalities, I think, can at times be forgone in the interest of an intriguing story. Practicalities have nothing to do with research. Furthermore, the first 100 words of any book is a mere drop in the bucket. Who knows where I take my character later, or how I justify her "not practical" actions? So, for the record, Ms. Weathers, I do not simply tell exciting tales. I invite you to explore my work and learn for yourself. I'll even send you free, autographed copies.
Actually, no, I won't.
UPDATED: The debate rages on today, with more anonymous posters and Ms. Weathers' repeated rebuttals. I'm out of it at this point. It's clear Ms. Weathers' insists upon having the last word, so I'll let her have it. I can't say I didn't find this amusing, though. I've got no problem with the crit circle approach. Truly, I don't. It works for a lot of authors, and I am a big advocate of working in whatever way works for you. Write your best in nothing but panties and bunny ears mouthing the words to Oops, I Did it Again? Go for it. That's the beauty of being a writer. Myself, I don't buy into the critique workshop craze. I have a select group of trusted colleagues that I ask to critique my work. I have my editor, Lori, who is the best thing since candied yams. I have wonderful reviewers that consistently request my work, like Jennifer Ray at Kwips and Kritiques, Cathie at Euro Reviews. Elise at BDSM Reviews was invaluable in providing detailed notes on her impressions of "A Scandalous Arrangement." My best friend, Sara, recently read Leading Her to Heaven and told me she loved the book, but hated my heroine. I laughed, and asked her why. It turns out the things I liked about Susanna were the things that turned Sara off. Either way, I concluded, the book got her to think. I'd rather a negative reaction than no reaction. But I do have to agree with my anonymous defenders that a contest entry forum may not be the best place for a critique session.